Making sense of all the anxieties in this Covid-19 crisis



Atty. Mel Sta. Maria Dean Mel Sta. Maria

The present Covid-19 crisis revealed many things from the government and the public. Interesting are the many posts in social media making suggestions, giving opinions, praising and/or lambasting the Duterte administration. Though  manifested in contradicting ways,   love of country is the common  motivation. Opposite reactions are not mutually exclusive.  Following government directives and calling attention to its lack of foresight do not cancel each other. They form one coherent act expressing concern for our people.

One of the most sobering posts comes from the director of the  Graduate Legal Studies Institute, Ateneo Law School,professor Amparita Sta. Maria. She posted on March 15:

I've been seeing posts that caution the government that ‘militarization’ is not the answer in addressing the NCOV-19 pandemic.

“To a certain extent we need the presence of law enforcement and perhaps some presence of the military to maintain public order. We all know that a portion of the citizenry will find ways and means to defy or avoid restrictions because they are ‘pasaway’ per se, and perhaps they have a false sense of invincibility. Or perhaps they are just panicky because everything is happening so fast, it's just too much to process right away. Hence, we had an exodus from NCR and I just hope these people do self-quarantine.

“That said, most of them fear loss of livelihood and access to basic necessities because of these restrictions. And here lies the crux of the problem. There is a very low level of trust in the government that it can and will alleviate the other problems created by this pandemic. The press conferences held in Malacañang did not help at all. The DOH has more enlightening information, and the LGUs appear to have a more concrete plan, albeit also veering towards restriction rather than provision. Public order, even if you put a show of force, can only succeed as long as the people can be assured that their need for basic necessities is met and health concerns answered. Unfortunately, I do not see this happening yet, given that our very own health care providers lack the proper protection and human reinforcement to address this pandemic. Even law enforcers and armed personnel in the NCR borders and those assigned to check people who enter and exit buildings might be at risk if the lack of protective provisions and tests persists.

“We need to balance things. Public health at this point trumps everything but this does not mean travel restrictions only: the underlying determinants of health must be provided: clean food, water, sanitation, provision of tests and accurate information. The social determinants must also be examined: who are the most vulnerable, the most deprived of access and the socially excluded. This post is already long but not as long as the things we as a people must do. We need to be able to trust our government first, but we also need evidence to do that.”(end of quote)

John F. Kennedy said “sincerity is subject to proof.” In President Duterte’s   March 16, 2020, press conference, he made an unequivocal assurance and called on the barangay captains. He said: "What I would like to assure you: Saan kami kukuha ng pagkain kung hindi kami lalabas?.... The barangay captain should call a number and at least food, rice, and some ulam, pwede nyong ibigay sana para sa ating kababayan." He also said that he will answer rentals in case of nonpayment. These are powerful promises. He cannot make “feel-good” guarantees and later forget them.

President Duterte also asked big businesses to advance the employees’ 13th month pay. But government must have a counterpart compassionate act. Postponing the April 15 filing and payment of taxes, as desired by many, would  enable taxpayers to use money for their needs and prevent potential long queues pregnable to the Covid-19 virus.Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo has spearheaded a  timely donation drive for health-frontliners’ assistance, already surpassing the P14 million mark.

The Duterte administration seeks public understanding. But it should understand the public too. It cannot simply say “in case of doubt, stay at home.” To the police manning the checkpoint doubting the truthfulness of a wandering mother’s desperate plea: “I am looking for food and medicine for my children,”

I hope you let her pass within the limits of the law and government directives. It is better to err on the side of humanity. That makes a lot more sense.